Jacques Schiesser (1848–1913)

With his wife Malwine, the Swiss textile entrepreneur Jacques Schiesser established a company to make underwear in 1875 at Radolfzell in south-west Germany. It grew quickly and became a global brand.

Jacques Schiesser was born to a German-speaking family at Glarus in Switzerland. His father owned a weaving factory at Sirnach, where Jacques was trained. Jacques’ father died when he was 25 and he inherited enough money to buy equipment from a bankrupt jersey textile factory and set up independently. Soon after this he decided to emigrate to Germany. With his wife Malwine Vogler (1850-1929) he set up the Jacques Schiesser Mechanische Trikotwaarenfabrik in 1875. They rented premises for their circular knitting machines in the ballroom of an inn at Radolfzell, across the German border on Lake Constance. Two years later they built a small factory with a dyeing shop and 104 circular knitting machines. By 1880 they employed 280 workers who carried out all the processes from raw fibres to finished goods. The firm exported 80% of its output, to the Middle East, south and east Asia, Australia and the USA. In order to expand it attracted additional workers with a savings bank, health insurance scheme, dormitory accommodation and a holiday village. In the 1890s it built additional factories to extend the labour available, in the same region at Stockach and Engen and 1700-km away at Bucharest in Romania.

At the Exposition Universelle of 1900 in Paris, Schiesser was awarded the Grand Prix for Innovation for its patented special products, including lightweight ‘tricot’ knitwear and underwear that used a linen made from the ramie plant. By about 1900 the firm produced 12,000 items a year with some 1,300 staff, a quarter of them home-workers.

When Jacques died in 1913, Malwine and their son-in-law Wilhelm Finckh continued the business, followed in 1915 by Jacques’ nephew Jean Schiesser. It became a limited company in 1916 which was led by members of the family until 1936. Today, it continues as a global brand with its head office in Radolfzell.